UK aid cuts could force closure of Afghan project supporting women and girls

The Guardian

Fri 24 Mar 2023

Slashing funding to the programme from a promised £7m to just £1m sends a ‘stark message to the world’, says Save the Children

The UK government has cut almost £6m in funding to a programme in Afghanistan supporting vulnerable women and girls.

Save the Children said it has been told by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that it will receive just over £1m of a promised £7m to support more than 100,000 people to access essential basic services such as healthcare and education.

The charity said the year-long programme, which started in December and delivers classes to women and girls across Afghanistan, may now be forced to close this month. Save the Children is scrambling to secure funds to continue the work, which provides a lifeline for many who face the risk of early marriage, violence and other forms of exploitation.

Gwen Hines, CEO of Save the Children UK, said: “Afghan children are already dying from hunger and disease, and now face having funding for basic food, health and education programmes withdrawn by the British government.

“The decision to cut millions in funding to Afghan children sends a stark message to the world that the UK is turning its back on the most vulnerable children and families in one of the world’s most challenging contexts. The UK’s rhetoric that it supports women and girls in Afghanistan now rings hollow.”

More than 28 million people – more than half the population – including 15 million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, according to the UN.

Since 2019, the total UK aid budget has been cut by £4bn, from 0.7% gross national income (£15.2bn) to 0.5% (£11.4bn) in 2021. As much as a third of the aid budget is now being spent on housing refugees in the UK, which MPs on the international development committee (IDC) have described as “unsustainable”.

The IDC had launched a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of the government’s funding cuts on women and girls in low-income countries.

The cut to Save the Children’s programme, Supporting Afghanistan’s Basic Services, comes three months after the Taliban issued a decree banning Afghan women from working for NGOs. The charity was among a number of organisations that suspended operations as a result. It has resumed its work after receiving assurances from the authorities that female staff will be safe and can work without obstruction.

Last week, the UK government launched its global women and girls strategy promising to “put women and girls at the heart of FCDO’s work”.

The FCDO has been approached for comment.

UK aid cuts could force closure of Afghan project supporting women and girls